All entries for June 2019

June 24, 2019

10 seconds of PE to forget – Sim

10 seconds of PE to forget

This post is inspired by 10 seconds of a PE lesson which I will always remember, yet I pray that the student in question will be quick to forget. We will call the student Hannah. Hannah is in Year 7; she is enthusiastic and loves to try her hardest. Whilst she can hold her own in a game of netball, she is by no means athletic with a much higher BMI than her peers.

It was the start of the athletics season and I elected to deliver a sprinting lesson in the only way I knew how: sprinting technique and sprint-start coaching, all building up to the big 100m finale. The stage was set, the most eager students which had already competed were waiting at the finish line for the closing heat with Hannah apprehensively holding her best impression of a sprint-start position. The crowd eagerly cheered on as the other competitors competed for a near photo-finish, after which came 10 awkward seconds of depleted applause as Hannah made her way to the finish line, exhausted and humiliated. It is these 10 seconds which I have reflected upon the most in my PGCE year as they embody the degrading nature of performance-orientated PE.

Performance-orientated PE lessons are designed to measure attainment through comparative norm performance. Whilst this celebrates the ablest, there is a danger that such approaches embarrass, marginalise and disengage lower ability students. Achievement goal theory (Nichols, 1984) proposes that we are innately driven to either demonstrate competence or mask incompetence. As such, secondary PE is flooded with ‘Hannahs’ who have undergone negative performance-orientated experiences and now refuse to engage with athletics because their comparative norm incompetence has been exposed.

One answer to this issue is teaching through a mastery-orientated climate rather than performance. In a mastery climate, students achieve goals satisfaction through self-improvement, rather than winning. One framework for adapting lessons for mastery-orientation is Epstein’s (1989) TARGET Model. At the heart of the framework is the movement away from comparative norm performance toward self-referenced goals. Figure 1 illustrates Morgan and Kingston’s (2010) summary of how the model is applied to PE.

Figure 1. (Morgan and Kingston, 2010)

Performance versus Mastery diagram

Upon reflection, using the TARGET framework, I adopted a mastery approach to my sprinting lessons with other classes. Students would work in small groups with the rotating roles of sprinter, timer and coach. They would time each other to sprint for 5 seconds and lay down a cone to mark their distance. The sole lesson objective was to beat your marker by applying the correct technique and I was amazed by the feedback I received.

The ablest students, accustomed to achieving satisfaction through performance goals, became frustrated at the lack of competition, yet they were engaged, nonetheless. One way I overcame this barrier was to offer an optional 100m sprint. But most importantly, lower ability students (Hannahs) which had not held back in stated their reservations towards athletics, actually thanked me for the lesson, because for the first time they were able to enjoy mastery-goal satisfaction in sprinting. My only regret is that it took Hannah’s 10 seconds of embarrassment for me to recognise the need to adapt my teaching climate to allow all students to succeed.


Epstein, J., 1989. Family structures and student motivation: A developmental perspective. Research on motivation in education, 3, pp.259-295.

Morgan, K. and Kingston, K., 2010. Promoting a mastery motivational climate in a higher education sports class. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sports and Tourism Education (Pre-2012), 9(1), p.73.

Nicholls, J.G., 1984. Achievement motivation: Conceptions of ability, subjective experience, task choice, and performance. Psychological review, 91(3), p.328.

June 17, 2019

Can’t do maths? Try Fermi problems instead! – Jeremy

I talk to Jean - an intelligent, articulate Glaswegian who left school with no qualifications - over the internet. I told her about my essay on re-engaging students who are “switched off” to maths.

“I can’t do maths.”

“Perhaps you could if you were taught using Fermi problems.” Being keen to try this approach, advocated by some of the literature, I told her how Enrico Fermi solved problems such as “how many piano tuners are there in Chicago?” without any data, using his knowledge to supply defensible estimates.

“I don’t care about piano tuners in Chicago.”

“Fermi problems can be about anything,” I said. “The teacher should choose a problem which is meaningful to their students.”


“You’re interested in cycling, so … how long would the averagely fit person take to cycle from Land’s End to John o’ Groats?”

“I don’t know. Two weeks? Three weeks?” Jean was engaging with the problem, but she was guessing. She needed some scaffolding.

“Don’t guess: use your knowledge. How many hours a day will they spend in the saddle?”

“Eight.” This sounded too high but I didn’t want to discourage her, so I said nothing.

“What will their average speed be?”

“40 mph.”

No way! That’s the speed of a world champion, not the averagely fit person. I challenged it, and after discussion Jean settled for 15mph.

“How many miles will they cover each day, riding at 15 mph for 8 hours?”

“120” was Jean’s instant response: she was “doing maths” without even realising it!

“What’s the distance from Land’s End to John o’ Groats?”

“I don’t know. About 1,000 miles?”

The actual answer is 874. I would have accepted 1,000 as an estimate, but she had guessed. You mustn’t guess when solving Fermi problems.

“Don’t guess. How can you estimate it?”

“I don’t know.” Jean was slipping into “maths lethargy”, but I was not going to let her give up.

“Suppose I tell you there’s a sign outside King’s Cross saying Edinburgh 401 miles? So London to Edinburgh is about 400 miles.”

“1,000 miles is two and a half times that.” Jean was re-engaging, and we were back in the hunt!

“Think about the map of Britain. Is Land’s End to John o’ Groats two and a half times London to Edinburgh?”

A pause, then: “Yes, it’s about that.”

“Good. So you can defend your figure. How many days will it take to cycle 1,000 miles at 120 miles a day?”


“What’s 8 times 120?”

“960. Oh! So nine.”

“Is that your answer? Nine days?”

“Yes,” said Jean. Then, “No! Some days they might not do 120 because of punctures, or hills. So, ten.”

“Is that your final answer?”


“Are all your numbers defensible?”


“OK. Let’s check it.”

I consulted Wikipedia. Land’s End to John o’ Groats cyclists normally take 10 - 14 days. Jean’s sense of accomplishment when I shared the link was palpable: she had just solved a Fermi problem and absolutely nailed it! In doing so she had multiplied 8 by 15 and 120 by 8; divided 1,000 by 400; estimated comparative distances; and identified and applied an appropriate rule of rounding. She had “done maths”; and I intend to incorporate Fermi problems into my teaching practice.

June 03, 2019

Reflections on the Warwick Education Conference Antiracist Pedagogy Workshop – Abigail Ball

I recently attended a Warwick Education Conference workshop on antiracist pedagogy run by Mark Hinton from CLL and Lydia Plath from History. The session was also supported by Meleisa Ono-George, co-lead of the WIHEA Learning Circle called ‘Anti-Racist Pedagogy and Process in HE.’

Research undertaken by Universities UK and the National Union of Students (amongst others) has shown that students who identify as Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) have substantially different attainment, progression and experience in HE compared with those students who identify as White. These differences have been attributed to practices and processes within HE that disadvantage particular groups of BAME students (Ono-George and Awesti, 2019).

The purpose of this workshop was to raise awareness of antiracist pedagogy and to provide a safe and supportive environment for participants to discuss the topic and associated issues. The session included a really useful introduction to race and racism which was very interesting and helpful in setting the context of the workshop.

For one of the activities we were divided into two separate groups - those participants who identified as White and those participants who identified as BAME. Blackwell (2010) describes this as a black feminist approach which uses racially separate groups to remove the burden of representation from BAME students. She adds that this process enables BAME students to discuss their own antiracist interests, issues and requirements without the need to represent BAME students as a whole. She further adds that this teaching approach supports the development of discussion that differs from the accepted hegemony (hooks, 1994).

This was a really strange experience and I personally have never been divided into groups in this way before, but it did definitely change the dynamic of the group and the discussions that took place. As someone who identifies as White I was grouped with other similar participants and we were asked to consider our identity and how we described ourselves, in smaller sub-groups. For me personally I found it quite hard to describe myself and I found I was thinking about class which is not something I usually consider. Although I know my ethnic background, I did not particularly want to discuss something that felt very personal with relative strangers and I wonder if this was how everyone felt?

We then switched into different sub groups and discussed the impact that antiracist pedagogy might have on our teaching practice. I found myself wondering if technology is as colour blind as I had assumed. Does someone who identifies as White have a different experience with technology compared with someone who identifies as BAME? I have no answers to these questions and came away from the session feeling unsettled and not sure how to embed antiracist pedagogy in my teaching – although I am definitely going to try.

At the start of the session, the facilitators commented that we would not find reassurance from the workshop and that we would not find easy or ready-made solutions and they were right. Whilst I gained a better understanding of some of the issues, I found that the workshop led me to question my teaching practice, the institutional norms that I work within and the society that I live in.


Blackwell, D.M. (2010) ‘Sidelines and separate spaces: making education anti‐racist for students of color.’ Race Ethnicity and Education, 13(4), pp. 473-494.

hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.

Ono-George, M. and Awesti, A. (2019) Anti-Racist Pedagogy and Process in HE. Available from: (Accessed 22nd May 2019).

June 2019

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